As the Dallas-Fort Worth region continues to grow by leaps and bounds, many see mass transit as a key to getting around. But in some communities, the number of people who take trains and buses continue to drop.
It's a problem the Denton County Transportation Authority is trying to solve, as overall ridership continued to decline in September -- including a significant decrease in the number of people taking DCTA's A-train.
"I take the train just about every day," said Zaccheus Flowers, as he waited for a train to take him to work at a sparsely-populated Old Town Station in Lewisville.
Flowers said he enjoyed the convenience and service of taking the train. He said he believed it's a bargain, and likes the friendly service.
"It's a very short commute," he said. "To get to Dallas or Denton, whatever side you're going to."
DCTA said year-to-date ridership is down nearly 17 percent compared to this time last year. Flowers said he and other commuters have no trouble finding a seat.
"Oh, it's not crowded at all," he said. "It has its moments, like traffic hour, just like on the freeway."
DCTA is well aware of the ridership issues, which have plagued mass transit systems in other parts of the country as well. Bus business also fell, contributing to an overall ridership decline of just over three percent.
"Transit has to start changing the way we do business," said Raymond Suarez, who took over as chief executive officer at DCTA last month.
Suarez said there are many contributing factors to the decrease in business, including low gas prices and competition from rideshare services such as Lyft and Uber. He said changes in the way people shop also contributed to the slide. For instance, fewer people take buses to retail outlets such as malls and shopping centers.
"Across the nation ridership in conventional transit has been down," Suarez said. "It's been a challenge for transit authorities as the economy changes."
DCTA has already taken measures to try to boost business. The authority has teamed up with rideshare services to help get customers to and from buses and trains. It also offers fare discounts –- including upcoming free rides to voters and veterans -- to attract new customers and keep existing ones.
Despite sagging ridership, Suarez said he believed mass transit would do well in North Texas down the road.
"This area is going to grow by millions of people. There's not enough financial or human capacity to build the roads we need," he said. "Transit is a vital part of how we do business in the future, and I'm confident ridership is going to turn to the positive."
Suarez said time will tell if those promotions will boost ridership. He's encouraged that many DCTA service routes showed increases in the number of people using them. Marketing and customer service are also key components to attracting more riders, he said.
Flowers said if he had one complaint about the A-train, it's that he would like to see a broader schedule.
"I'm on my way to work and the last train came at 12:17," he said. The next one wasn't scheduled to arrive for another hour. He had places to be. So he had no choice but to wait.
"That's just about the only thing I'd like to see changed," he said. "Other than that, it's a great service."